November 6, 2017 | Everyone has a part to serve in protecting our Church against evil.

 
Sunday was a tragic day for a rural Baptist church outside of San Antonio, Texas. During the worship service for the first Baptist church of Sutherland Springs, a gunman opened fire, killing at least 26 and injuring 10 others. This is the third time a shooter has opened fire within a church service in the last 17 months. While authorities are still trying to answer so many questions of what would motivate a person to do something so terrible, as your pastor, I believe this tragedy gives reason for our church to have a conversation.

Evil is not going away. Our world is only going to grow darker as sin tightens its ugly grip. And we shouldn’t be surprised; for Jesus predicted this would be so. In John 16:32, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As I’ve read comments on social media in reaction to this tragedy and others like it, I’m burdened with how Christians should respond. As humans our natural reaction is to hide in fear or defend and fight. And while this seems to be a reasonable response to such an event, is this truly how Jesus would want His people to answer?

Light shines brightest in the midst of the darkest darkness. True love casts out all fear. We make Christ known, not in shouting louder, but by loving greater. Jesus told his disciples in John 13:35, “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” He also said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The Christian response to evil and hate is not the same response the world gives. God calls his people to love, because God loves us.

Now love does not give us the excuse to be naïve and pretend like evil doesn’t exist. We must exercise wisdom and care. And while we “love people into a relationship with Jesus”, we must recognize that not everyone will be friendly towards the gospel that we share.

So with love in our hearts and grace on our minds, I believe there are ways our church can proactively protect our families while we love people toward Jesus.

One of our best lines of security (although not our only line of security) is being the most hospitable church a guest has ever met. Someone with the motivation to cause harm wants to sneak in unnoticed. So our greatest protection can actually also be our greatest asset — we love on people!

Let me share a few ways with you how incredible hospitality can also serve to guard us against evil:
  • Notice people you might not know and ask them if they are visiting as our guest. We welcome new families into our worship services every single week. Part of extending the love of Jesus to our guests, is to notice that they’re here. And while we have an incredible greeting team to welcome our guests and make them feel at home, everyone in the church can help create an incredible first impression for our guests by seeing them, noticing them, and making them feel at home. If you see someone sitting next to you and you do not know who they are, politely ask them if today is their first Sunday with us. And if it is, welcome them! Experts tell us that a person with the motivation to cause harm will attempt to come in unnoticed. Let’s NOT allow anyone to worship with us and be unnoticed.
  • Look our guests in the eye. With a smile on your face, tell our guest that you’re glad they are here. People don’t look one another in the eye much anymore. We live in a culture where people have distanced themselves from one another. It’s a when a friendly face looks you in the eye and kindly welcomes you, a barrier is removed and you feel comforted. When you look someone in the eye it communicates value. Let’s make our guests feel valued when they worship with us. And in a case where they were attempting to inflict harm, they’ll discover that we are a church that notices them.
  • Take time to introduce our guest to someone else. People are more likely to return for a second time when they’ve developed a relationship with a few people. The more connections a new guest makes, the more they will feel at home. No one wants to be the only unknown person in a room full of people who know each other. So after meeting a first-time guest and making them feel welcome, take a moment and introduce them to someone else in the church. If they had an ill motive to do harm, we have communicated that we notice them, see them, and know who they are.


Unfortunately these tragedies are not going away. And while we will take measures to improve our security and make our church a safer place for families to worship, our greatest asset is also our best defense. As we love people into a relationship with Jesus, our hospitality will draw more people to the gospel and make it more difficult for evil to come in.

In Christ,
Ashton

 
October 30, 2017 | God’s power is at work even when I feel like I can’t
 
For the last four weeks, we’ve been rediscovering what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. And one of the promises that we’ve reinforced each week is that God’s Spirit is always with us. Jesus assured us of His ever-faithful presence in our lives in John 14:16-17 when He promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” You can never more or less of the Spirit’s presence in your life; because the Holy Spirit is present with you, always.

And if He is present with you, then His power is also present in your life. Of the many ways the Holy Spirit empowers the Christian’s faith, perhaps the one that strengthens my faith most is knowing that His power is available to me when I’m facing overwhelming trials.

I’ve known many Christians who have accomplished amazing things by the power of the Spirit of God. I’ve witnessed brothers and sisters in Christ who have been used by God in such incredible ways that could only be credited to God’s power. But I’ve also known many people who have walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” and have been empowered by God to keep walking. God’s power is as much at work in life’s darkest times as He is in the mountaintop moments.

Perhaps you’re wrestling with a painful situation in your life right now. Whether it’s a diagnosis; or maybe it’s stress at work. Whatever grief is caused by this life, you have the Spirit of the living God empowering you to get through.

Romans 8:11 gives us this promise: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

The same Spirit that causes life to flow through the veins of Jesus’ dead body and caused it to resurrect from the grave is the Spirit that lives in you and empowers you to get through whatever stresses you out or causes you worry.

Maybe life’s problems are so heavy that you don’t believe me. Perhaps you’ve been buried by a burden for so long that you can’t see how it’s possible that God’s Spirit is strengthening you. Even if you don’t feel the power of the Holy Spirit, He is with you. And one of the ways that He empowers you is He prays for you.

Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Take courage, for the Spirit of God lives in you and He daily wants to give your faith more power. Believe Him and trust Him.

In Christ,

Ashton

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